PORTAGE, Mich. (DETROIT FREE PRESS)-- A boatful of Michigan fishermen matched wits, technology and brute strength to hook, fight and finally lasso and drag into their 17-foot boat a 58-pound Great Lakes muskellunge last Saturday -- 8 pounds heavier than the previous Michigan record.
What's more, Joseph Seeberger's 59-inch fish -- subdued after breaking two small nets in the first effort to land it -- could be certified as a world record for a muskie caught on such light line, 8-pound test fluorocarbon.
Seeberger, 41, who lives in Portage near Kalamazoo, was fishing last Saturday morning in Antrim County's Lake Bellaire for smallmouth bass with his brother Chuck and friend Jason Orbeck, both of Battle Creek. Despite the hail and rain that began their fishing day, they had caught three fat smallmouths before the muskie, a female, grabbed the 7-inch minnow Joseph Seeberger was using as bait.
"At first, I thought it was another smallie. I told them, 'It's a good one,' " Seeberger said. "Then I said, 'Oh, it's not a smallie.'"
He said the muskie came easily to the boat just five minutes after he hooked it.
"Then she spooked and jumped out of the water and was gone," he said. "The only thing I can compare it to is that scene in 'Jaws' when the shark swims by the boat and comes out of the water."
But the trophy was still at the end of his line.
Off and on over the next two hours, the fight raged with the muskie taking out more line when it wanted and the three men following it around the lake using an electric trolling motor.
Seeberger, knowing he had a potential record on his hook, asked one of his buddies to Google what was the size of a potential record book muskie in Michigan. They found it was about 50 inches, he said, so they marked off 50 inches along the side of the boat. If the fish was shorter than that, Seeberger said he intended to release it.
About 90 minutes into the fight, Seeberger had the fish beside the boat.
"Where the 50 inches ended, the head began," he said, knowing he had a true monster.
As the fish tired, the group was confounded how to land it. From friends in a nearby boat, they borrowed another bass-sized net, like the one they already had in the boat. They decided to put the fish into both nets -- one at its head, the other at its tail.
They lifted. Both nets broke and the record fish was still free.
Amazingly, it didn't break the light line. That when another buddy, Derek Barnes of Battle Creek, who had been videotaping the battle, climbed onto their boat to help. Their first idea was to try to slip life jackets under the muskie as a cradle and then bring her in, but the jackets were too buoyant to push underwater and hope the fish wouldn't take another dive. Almost out of possibilities, they agreed to take a dock line off the boat and lasso the muskie around its head then quickly cinch the loop.
It worked. With the rope around it, all four men reached into the water and wrestled the muskie aboard.
"It looked like a big log coming out of the water when I first saw the fish. I think we all were all just waiting for the line to break at anytime," Barnes said. "Once the fish was in the boat, many high fives, some Holy Cows, and I am sure a swear word or two."
They headed for shore, trailered the boat and drove straight for the local bait shop to get it weighed. A police officer was driving by and they flagged him down, asking for help to reach the Department of Natural Resources, because the fish and its weight had to be certified by a DNR biologist to qualify as a record.
One bystander admiring the fish just happened to have the cell phone number of a DNR biologist. Patrick Hanchin, a DNR fisheries biologist at the Charlevoix Fisheries Research Station and Conservation Officer Steve Speigl confirmed the weight and length of the fish as a new record.
Seeberger's fish breaks the previous state record Great Lakes muskie caught three years ago of Kyle Anderson of Rapid City by about 8 pounds and 3 inches. The fish was caught on Torch Lake, which is part of the same chain of lakes as Lake Bellaire. It also was bigger than the state's record Tiger Muskellunge -- a 53-pound fish caught in the western Upper Peninsula in 1919.
Seeberger said he plans to enter the fish as a possible new world record for 8-pound test with the International Gamefish Association.
"This fish shows that Michigan waters are capable of producing huge fish," said DNR Fisheries Division Chief Jim Dexter. "Great waters coupled with appropriate management strategies can result in even more record fish." Seeberger's fish is one of several record book muskies to come from the same chain of lakes that drains downstream through the Grass River to Clam Lake to Torch Lake and River and into Skegemog and Elk lakes.
The muskie is now at a taxidermy shop in northern Michigan being preserved to mount on Seeberger's wall.